|U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson|
Agreeing to US pleas Russia switches back on hotline between US and
Russian militaries in Syria but steps up aid to Syria regardless.
A report in the Russian newspaper Izvestia sourced from the Russian
Foreign Ministry says that in response to US pleas Russia has quietly
switched back on the hotline between the Russian and US militaries in
Russia switched the hotline off in response to the US
missile attack on Syria’s Al-Shayrat air base on 6th April 2017. The
immediate result was a dramatic cut
in US air operations in Syria, as the US military dared not risk an
accidental clash with the Russian air force in Syria, where Russia –
because of the presence of its S-400 and S-300VM Antey-2500 surface to
air missiles – dominates the skies.
The Russians made no concession to the US by switching the
hotline back on. Had they not done so the US would at some point have
increased its flights in Syria regardless, and the danger of a clash
between the US and Russian militaries in Syria – which is wanted by
neither side – would have sharply increased.
What the Russians have done by switching the hotline back on
after leaving it off for several weeks, is give the US the strongest
possible signal that unimpeded US air operations in Syria depend on
Russia’s agreement, and that Russia will not give this agreement if the
US carries out further strikes on the Syrian military.
In response the US has been giving Russia for weeks both
public and private that no further US military strikes like the one
carried out against Al-Shayrat air base are contemplated.
I discussed all this at length in an article dated 13th April 2007
This affair of the hotline has been barely reported by the establishment media, which has also barely reported the dramatic effect its suspension is having on US air operations in Syria.
However in combination with the presence of Russian air defence
missiles in Syria it has enabled the Russians to respond to the US
missile strike in a way that is both discrete and powerful, avoiding the
risk of a dangerous escalation whilst clearly and forcefully making
The US urgently needs to resume its air offensive against ISIS at
full strength, and for that reason it will want the hotline reinstated
as soon as possible. The Russians for their part know that if they
continue to keep the hotline suspended for too long the point will come
when the US will be forced – if only to save face – to resume its air
operations in Syria at full force, even though the hotline remains
suspended, and even if this risks an armed clash with the Russians.
Both sides therefore have a strong incentive to de-escalate.
It is therefore a certainty the US is giving the Russians the
assurances they are demanding – indeed Trump, Tillerson and McMaster
have all done so publicly – and it is a certainty the Russians will
before long pretend to accept these assurances, and will switch the
hotline back on.
Conceivably, in the hours since Lavrov spoke, this might already have
happened. As I have said previously, switching off the hotline is
intended as much as a warning to the US by the Russians as anything else, and the Russians will not press their luck too far once they are sure the US has heeded it.
However it is highly unlikely the Russians will accept whatever assurances the US is giving them at face value.
Last week the US showed that it could change its entire Syrian policy
at the drop of a hat, and there is no assurance it will not do so again
regardless of whatever assurances the Trump administration is now
giving the Russians.
Over the next few weeks the Russians will therefore quietly take
further steps to strengthen Syria’s air defences to increase the risks
for the US of any further US strikes on Syria. They have already said
they will do this, and there is no doubt that they will.
In relation to the points made in the last paragraphs,
unconfirmed reports have been circulating for several days that the
Russians are planning to supply BUK, Tor and Pantsir anti-aircraft
missile systems to Syria to beef up the air defences of the Syrian
military, as of course they said they would do directly after the US
missile strike on Syria’s Al-Shayrat air base.
The article in Izvestia which reports the turning back on of the hotline makes essentially the same point.
Washington has asked Moscow to resume cooperation on the
previous flight safety mechanism to prevent incidents in the sky over
Syria which Russia had suspended following the surprise US missile
strike on Syria’s Shayrat airfield, three sources in Russia’s Foreign
Ministry told Izvestia. Moscow had resumed the de-confliction channel on
flight safety back on April 13, the day after US Secretary of State Rex
Tillerson’s visit to Russia. Politicians and experts believe that
Washington was forced to take this step since any lack of coordination
with Russia could result in negative consequences.
“Washington’s policy is pragmatic,” Igor Morozov, member of the
Russian Federation Council’s (upper house of parliament) International
Affairs Committee, told the paper. “The State Department understands
well that the strategic initiative in Syria’s skies is in the hands of
Russia’s Aerospace Forces. So, to avoid any unforeseen situations in the
air, the US made such a request,” he explained. ‘
‘Yuri Zinin, a leading researcher at the Center for Partnership of
Civilizations of Moscow-based MGIMO University, said: “Washington
instigated our reaction. Given that Syria’s sovereignty was violated,
our steps may be called rather moderate. In particular, this could have
resulted in the death of US advisers and troops in Syria.” By suspending
the flight safety mechanism, Russia indicated that it won’t let the US
take uncoordinated and unilateral decisions in Syria. Apparently,
Washington has taken the hint.
The article in Izvestia is wrong in one respect. It was not
on 13th April 2017 that Russia turned the hotline back on since on 15th
April 2017 Russian officials confirmed the hotline was still turned off.
Reports say that the hotline was turned back on following a
personal request by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Russian
Foreign Minister Lavrov. That almost certainly happened during a telephone conversation between
Lavrov and Tillerson on 21st April 2017. The hotline was apparently
turned back on the following day, which was 22nd April 2017.
Since the telephone conversation between Lavrov and
Tillerson has not received wide publicity, the writer of the Izvestia
article has made the mistake of thinking the Russians agreed to
Tillerson’s request during his very highly publicised meeting with
Lavrov and Putin in Moscow on 12th April 2017. That would explain why
Izvestia is reporting that the hotline was turned on the day after that
meeting, which would have been 13th April 2017.
That is certainly wrong, and the Russian authorities have repeatedly confirmed as much.
Source: The Duran